I was mercilessly decluttering the other day and was literally sighing with delight at all the clear surfaces and space all around me. I always feel calmer and more peaceful whenever I'm in bare but beautiful places, and the simple pleasure of creating that at home got me thinking about other simple pleasures - smells, sounds, lighting - that I associate with some of my happiest "happy places".
And it got me thinking that we've all had glimpses (hopefully more) of what it feels like to be in our happy place mentally, physically, and/or emotionally, but for some reason we don't usually stop to think about how and why those places are happy for us. I mean, when was the last time you tried to deconstruct your happy place experience? And more important, when was the last time you tried to re-create your happy place experience in even a small way?
We are all affected by our physical environments. Without realizing it, the stresses around us, the energy around us, the people, and sounds, and smells around us all combine into one big experiential ball that affects our mood, our performance, our productivity, and our happiness.
I've always known this about myself. I can feel myself tighten up when I walk into a soulless conference room, I can feel myself come alive when I'm in beautiful surroundings, I know I am more creative when I am somewhere with high ceilings and natural light, and I know which social circles make me feel invincible and which leave me flattened. I know these things because I pay attention to how I feel and how I perform. And that's why I think it's so important to curate our environments.
This can be as simple as listening to relaxing music while you work at your desk, having a nice-smelling reed diffuser in your office, or using soft lighting instead of fluorescent bulbs. I do all of these things because I find spas really relaxing so why not make my working environment as spa-like as possible?
It can also be as practical as turning off email alerts from your phone so you're not always feeling harried and "pinged", not watching the news if all it does is make you angry, or avoiding social events (yes, even online!) where you'll be around people who irritate or deflate you. Our social and mental environments can be curated too.
The little changes can make a huge difference in how you feel AND how you perform. You know whether you are at your best in high-energy environments or more chilled ones. You know whether you nail presentations when wearing a power suit or wearing something a little less traditional but still professional. You know whether you exercise more effectively surrounded by the high-octane energy of a gym or running on a nature trail.
Our minds are incredibly powerful and we pick up hundreds of subtle and subconscious cues from our surroundings. So by curating our environments, we give ourselves more chances to feel and do more of our best more of the time.
It doesn't have to be a total overhaul, but we can all start with a small, simple change. And then another. And another. And over time and repetition, pretty soon we will have transformed our environments in ways that can transform our lives and our businesses as well.
Sometimes it's the small things that can have the biggest impact.
I don't know about you, but I have a complicated relationship with the word "nice" (and not in the way British people use it to refer to delicious food!). It doesn't mean that I go out of my way to be not nice, of course, it's just that too often the word (or its many synonyms) is used to emotionally blackmail women into being more accommodating or self-sacrificing than we ask men to be.
Just the other day I had a request come in from three different people who wanted to have a "quick chat"... for an HOUR each! When I responded - as I normally do to vague brain picking requests from total strangers - by asking them each to share the one or two specific topics they were interested in discussing OR to pay for my time - I got huffy replies with various versions of "but all I wanted was a friendly chat".
Now, maybe it's just me, but I can't remember the last time I had an hour long conversation with an actual friend, much less a stranger who couldn't be bothered to specify what they wanted to talk about.
And the responses I got seemed like emotional blackmail because in refusing the chat, was I refusing to be "friendly" as well? Now, getting three of these requests on the same day is pretty rare, but I could feel myself feeling the need to justify myself. To explain why it's important that I value my time, that I already give a generous number of hours of free mentoring away, that my filtering questions are a defense mechanism against askholes... But then I stopped.
I realized that the only reason I felt the need to justify anything was because I didn't want these strangers to think that I wasn't "nice", or - more bluntly - that I was being a bi*ch.
But how many men would feel the need to justify themselves for valuing their time and expertise? How many men would feel guilty for saying no to working for free? How many men would feel the pressure to be "nice" to total strangers who weren't even willing to answer a few questions?
Now I know not everything is a "gender thing", but some things affect women more than men. The world at large still expects us to be accommodating, sacrificing, helpful, and "nice" far more than it expects this of men.
But we don't have to be "nice girls". We are grown women who have limits on our time and our energy, and WE decide when that time and energy is invested in someone or something and when it isn't.
Because at the end of the day, we should worry far more about how often we are "nice" to ourselves and what and who is important to us than we ever worry about being "nice" to anyone else.